Bad Drug Movies We Love

Bad Drug Movies We Love - Page 2

By Joe Lynch 07/01/11

From Requiem, Trainspotting and Scarface to Drugstore Cowboy, Goodfellas and Boogie Nights, we all know the great films featuring drug abuse. That’s why we came up with a list of the less-than-greats that still hold a place in our hearts.

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The Boost (1988)

Starring: James Woods, Sean Young

What it’s about: A couple who has it all gets into cocaine and loses everything—including each other. 

Level of Realism: It goes for gritty but overshoots the mark—by a mile. Still, if you consider those reenactments on Rescue 911 startling, you might buy this. 

Why we love it: Although a well-meaning drama, a lot of the soul-spilling dialogue and over-the-top acting veers well into camp territory. James Woods, bless his heart, gives this role so much energy. But when he begins convulsing and his eyes roll back into his head after overdosing, he’s more Linda Blair than Requiem for a Dream. Especially when his acting stands next to the typically unemotional Sean Young (who, after this movie, supposedly stalked him), he looks like a comparative lunatic. 

Go (1999)

Starring: Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant, Sarah Polley

What it’s about: Disgruntled supermarket clerks do whippets on the job until they can get ecstasy and hit the LA clubs at night. With its interrelated but loosely connected narrative, Go is like a less ambitious (but just as fun) Pulp Fiction

Level of Realism: Although it occasionally seems like it’s glorifying the cheap thrills of ecstasy, the movie’s kinetic camerawork and pounding electronic soundtrack do a great job of relaying the frightening sensory overload of a bad trip. And the scene where one of the characters is convinced a cat is talking to him manages to be authentic, original, and laugh-out-loud hysterical.

Why we love it: The main character Ronna (Polley), a sort of Gen-X mouthpiece, is sometimes too quick on her feet and biting to be believable, but that’s part of the charm (call her a flesh-and-blood Daria). Also, Katie Holmes shouting down two men with a gun and talking them into shooting her Brit twit friend in the arm instead of in the head is probably her best acting moment to date.

Valley of the Dolls (1967)

Starring: Barbara Parkins (green pills) Patty Duke (red pills) Sharon Tate (blue pills)

What it’s about: Three starry-eyed girls taste fame in New York, but pressure to stay on top drives them toward the titular dolls (pills), booze and bad men—which eventually spells their downfall. 

Level of Realism: This type of story was already clichéd back in 1967, so even contemporary critics weren’t buying it as a morality tale. The level of camp is as high as the pompadours: tantrums are thrown, people slur their way through dialogue and a wig is tossed into a toilet. And Patty Duke says things like, “Boobies, boobies, boobies. Who needs 'em? I never had any.”

Why we love it: Although there were earlier (and more exploitative) films about the dangers of drugs, this is the one that showed Hollywood these movies could make a lot of money. And it even inspired an immediate and also-classic parody, the campy Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970. 

Desperate Lives (1982)

Starring: Diana Scarwid, Helen Hunt

What it’s about: An after school made-for-TV movie about a guidance counselor fighting against the rampant drug use that appears out of nowhere in her high school. 

Level of Realism: Well, if “after school made-for-TV movie” didn’t tip you off, it’s not very believable. Call it the Reefer Madness of the ’80s. 

Why we love it: After taking her first snort of PCP from peer pressure, a shrieking Helen Hunt leaps out of her high school’s second-story window. It shouldn’t be funny, but it’s done so abruptly that you can’t help but laugh. Still able to stand up, she starts staggering around and cutting herself on broken glass. Hey, even Oscar winners have to start somewhere. 

New Jack City (1991)

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Ice-T, Judd Nelson, Chris Rock

What it’s about: Two New York cops (the once-in-a-lifetime crime-fighting duo Ice-T and Judd Nelson) try to take down brutal Harlem drug lord Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes) who holes up in a seemingly impregnable abandoned apartment complex.

Level of Realism: Impressively believable for the most part. Unlike Scarface (which it undoubtedly borrows from), it rarely feels like it’s accidentally glorifying the drug lifestyle.

Why we love it: Snipes famously chews out his henchmen and tells one of them “Sit yo five dollar ass back down before I make change!” Although Martin Lawrence later parodied it on his TV show, it’s funny (and scary) enough to enjoy on its own. And the crying scenes with Chris Rock as a junkie shows all too clearly what a good choice he made when he switched from drama to comedy. 

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Joe Lynch is a freelance journalist and the Senior Editor at Billboard. You can find his writing in Entertainment Weekly, Yahoo TV and New York Magazine's Vulture. He previously wrote about Intervention for The Fix. You can find Joe on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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